Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Intentions are part of the decision to baptize. . .

I was told once that the operative working rules of a Roman priest were:  If it moves, baptize it; if it doesn’t move, bless it.  In jest, of course, but maybe some truth has been hidden in the joke.  Some were quick to baptize the children of cohabiting heterosexuals who never came to mass and now find themselves hard pressed when they do not want to baptize the children of married homosexuals.  Others see no a problem in punishing the children for the sins of their parents and therefore baptize anyone and everyone.  In the Roman Code of Canon Law there is the requirement that at least the priest have an expectation that the parents desire to raise the child in the faith.

There must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion. (Canon 868).

This is not an unreasonable expectation of the church to those who seek the grace of baptism for their children.  Without such a founded hope or reasonable expectation, the baptismal formula becomes mere magical incantation which acts ex opere operato to accomplish its saving purpose -- completely apart from the will and purpose of the baptized or those who take responsibility for them.  While Lutherans would be loathe to suggest anything that would diminish the efficacy of baptism, we would insist that the fruit and therefore hope of this baptism is a child raised in the faith to believe in it and trust it.  Either baptism acts magically apart from the faith and will of the baptized and neither expects nor anticipates the child being raised in the faith or the opposite is true -- nothing happens at all in the baptism.

I tend to believe that ex opere operato is less a concern or problem within Lutheranism (I cannot speak for Rome) than its antithesis -- nothing at all happens in baptism, it is pure symbolic act, and therefore it does not matter if there is any realistic hope or expectation that the parents and/or godparents will raise the child in the faith.  Pivotal in the baptismal right is when the parents are asked "who brings this child to be baptized?"  This question is not asked because the pastor is ignorant but as the public affirmation of the parent to do just that -- to raise the child in the faith, to teach the child of his or her baptism, to bring them to the worship services of God's house and the further instruction in the faith that will bring them to the Lord's Table.

This is the problem I have found with parents (and, by extension, godparents).  They love the idea of baptism and marvel at the solemn nature of the rite (including the exorcism) but they do not take seriously what happens afterward at home and church in the life of the baptized.  They love the symbolism and the symbolic gifts (napkin, candle, medallion, and banner) but they do not translate this into a duty and obligation on their part to bring this child up in the faith and in the church (that distinction should not have to be addressed but it increasingly needs just that).  Bringing the child up in the faith means bringing the child up in the church.

We tend to treat this parental promise as something almost peripheral to everything else.  It is as if it is mere window dressing instead of part of the intention of those who bring the child.  Baptism is not a photo op but the sacramental incorporation of the baptized into Christ's death and resurrection so that this child may trust in Christ and live in Christ, today and forever. Baptism is not simply an act done to or for the baptized but has an outcome and a purpose, both temporal and eternal.  Baptism is not a private act between the church or Christ and the baptized and their immediate family.  It is public and involves the whole of the Church.  It is for this reason that the normal expectation is that baptisms happen amid a real congregation.  Private baptisms may be the exception but the norm is that baptism is done amid the congregation and that this is not only entrance into the heavenly church but initiation into the earthly church as wwell.

I have witnessed many occasions in which a child is brought by grandparents or even godparent to church when mom or dad or both seem unconcerned about the child's spiritual welfare.  It is not hard to spot a child who has never been in church before.  The task is daunting and often embarrassing as you acclimate a child to the setting and liturgical life of the church (and Sunday school) but it is well worth it.  I can think of a couple of grandparents who have struggled with willful children only to see the child learn the faith, learn the liturgy, and grow in their baptismal identity and vocation.  It is a wonderful thing.  I applaud those who have struggled against difficult odds to do this.  God bless them and their grand-children and god-children are blessed to have them!  But. . .

Every time we bring a child to the font, we do so in the founded hope and expectation that this child will not disappear following the baptism but will be raised in the faith and in the church.  That is the parental promise (and the promise of the godparents) and we need to spend time talking about the role of parents in teaching their faith to their children.  I spend substantial time with the parent going over tools they can use to teach the faith, the faith expressed in the baptismal liturgy, the words of the Catechism on Holy Baptism, and their duty, willingly assumed, to raise these children in the faith, to bring them to the services of God's House, and for their further instruction in the faith so that they may commune on the body and blood of Christ.  I hope that this is the due diligence of every pastor (and priest).  We must not be too restrictive with respect to baptism but neither must we allow the founded hope and expectation of parents raising their children in the faith to become exceptional.


Carl Vehse said...

"Without such a founded hope or reasonable expectation, the baptismal formula becomes mere magical incantation which acts ex opere operato to accomplish its saving purpose -- completely apart from the will and purpose of the baptized or those who take responsibility for them."

However, from the LC on baptism:

52] Further, we say that we are not so much concerned to know whether the person baptized believes or not; for on that account Baptism does not become invalid; but everything depends upon the Word and command of God. 53] This now is perhaps somewhat acute, but it rests entirely upon what I have said, that Baptism is nothing else than water and the Word of God in and with each other, that is, when the Word is added to the water, Baptism is valid, even though faith be wanting. For my faith does not make Baptism, but receives it. Now, Baptism does not become invalid even though it be wrongly received or employed; since it is not bound (as stated) to our faith, but to the Word.

54] For even though a Jew should to-day come dishonestly and with evil purpose, and we should baptize him in all good faith, we must say that his baptism is nevertheless genuine. For here is the water together with the Word of God, even though he does not receive it as he should, just as those who unworthily go to the Sacrament receive the true Sacrament, even though they do not believe.

Carl Vehse said...

Lutherans do not claim baptism guarantees "Once saved, always saved," but Lutherans recognize that one can fall away from Christianity, and that the "prodigal son" who has fallen away can be brought back to the Christian faith.

From the LC:

84] For this reason let every one esteem his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly, that he may ever be found in the faith and its fruits, that he suppress the old man and grow up in the new. 85] For if we would be Christians, we must practise the work whereby we are Christians. 86] But if any one fall away from it, let him again come into it. For just as Christ, the Mercy-seat, does not recede from us or forbid us to come to Him again, even though we sin, so all His treasure and gifts also remain. If, therefore, we have once in Baptism obtained forgiveness of sin, it will remain every day, as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old man about our neck.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if we should ditch the big-baptismal responsibility-talk to the sponsors and address it to the parents. Is it really the job of the godparents to do all that? Especially when some of them live several states away? I have godchildren in Florida, South Dakota, Arizona and Nebraska and I'm supposed support them in their ongoing instruction in the faith? Meanwhile the parents get asked...NADA.
GASP and HERESY alert...change the baptismal service! Address the parents with Ephesians 6, 2 Timothy 3, and Matthew 28 so that everyone knows that parents have a God-given responsibility to instruct the baptized.

Pastor Peters said...

When did the parents ever cease to be the primary sponsors of their children? I think the talk is addressed to both but primarily to the parents, to be sure.

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Catholic Baptism Gifts